Did Christian Writers of the Second Century believe in the Incarnation?1

Note: This page was written after I stumbled across some remarks about Minucius Felix in usenet. This in turn led me to a page by a Mr. E. Doherty, at his site at http://www.jesuspuzzle.com entitled The Jesus Puzzle: Was there no historical Jesus? : The Second Century Apologists.  I gather Mr. Doherty has also published a book of this title.  The statements made appear to be an attempt to reintroduce the ideas of F.C.Baur and the 19th century Tübingen school of theology, discredited since 1936.

After reading some of the responses on the 'net to Mr. Doherty's article, I felt that the debate would benefit from some concrete data.  The volume of material to be handled has made it a lengthy and difficult task to reduce to the essential facts.  

The politicised nature of everything to do with Christian origins has made it necessary to at least mention theories that otherwise seem rather manufactured.  Likewise many uneducated people start by adopting a stance which suits their opinions, and stray 'quotes' are then used to 'support' it.  This page is written rather to assemble the data, and to treat the question as open, until all the evidence is reviewed.  I hope that you will do the same, and will find this useful, whatever your opinions.

How can we find out objectively what these people actually thought?  The only method I can think of is to let the data drive the investigation, and to avoid making judgements about the data where possible, at least until we know what it says.  Otherwise we end up inventing a pet theory, and then looking for 'quotes' to prop it up!   So I have attempted to examine the remains of their works, see what these are about, and see if they address the issue one way or the other.  

It might also be appropriate to see what later writers thought of them, as more of their works were extant in antiquity than is now the case.  Of course for many of them, we have no way to find out their views from their own words, as all their works are now lost; but we can obtain some information about them from other ancient writers who did know.

I think we are looking for the same author identifying Jesus both as fully God and fully man.  Ideally we would have both ideas together.

My approach - there are probably better ones - is to search for the words 'Jesus' and 'Christ' in the electronic texts of the second century Fathers.2  This will not help with circumlocutions, or less direct words like 'Son', 'Lord', 'Word' - but it should give us an initial idea of what the surviving works say.  I also looked for any relevant works by those Fathers not included in the online collection of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  I did not include heretical, Jewish or pagan writers, since as outsiders they are not reliable guides to what Christians themselves thought, but have added a few notes about them at the end; also some on the Apologists.3  Dates are all approximate.4

Ignatius,   Aristides,   Polycarp,   Death of Polycarp,   Justin,   Tatian,    [Miltiades],   
,   Athenagoras,   Irenaeus,   Theophilus, Minucius Felix,   Tertullian

Summary of evidence & Conclusion
Appendix 1 : Evaluating Minucius Felix
Appendix 2 : Heretics, Jews and Pagans
Appendix 3 : The Apologists 

Writers of the Second Century

Ignatius of Antioch (d. 1085)

Seven letters have been preserved.  


"Ignatius ... to the Church which is at Ephesus, ... united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God" (Proem.)

"Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you". (ch.1)

"We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For "the Word was made flesh." Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts." (Ch. 7)

"Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God..." (ch.20)


"Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time" (ch. 6)

"there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word" (Ch. 8)

"... I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that ye attain to full assurance in regard to the birth, and passion, and resurrection which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is our hope, from which may no one of you ever be turned aside." (Ch. 11)


"Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him..." (Ch. 8)


"...I pray for your happiness for ever in our God, Jesus Christ, ..." (Ch. 8)


"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which ... is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God." (Proem)


"I Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, ... He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church." (Ch. 1)

"Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]." (Ch. 2)

"For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, "Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit." And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father." (Ch. 3)


"Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life." (Ch. 9)

"But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?" (Ch. 10)

This seems to be quite clear - to Ignatius, Jesus is God, and is truly man.  Note that this is only apparent in some of the letters - others take no pains to make this point, or make only part of it.

Aristides (123-4 or 129AD)7

Only one work has been preserved:

"[To the] all-powerful Caesar Titus Hadrianus Antoninus, venerable and merciful, from Marcianus Aristides, an Athenian philosopher." (Proem.)

It was discovered first in Armenian fragments, then in Syriac and finally found to be extant in the Greek.  He compares what the Barbarians, the Greeks, the Jews and the Christians say about God.

"The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. This Jesus, then, was born of the race of the Hebrews; and he had twelve disciples in order that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished. But he himself was pierced by the Jews, and he died and was buried; and they say that after three days he rose and ascended to heaven. Thereupon these twelve disciples went forth throughout the known parts of the world, and kept showing his greatness with all modesty and uprightness. And hence also those of the present day who believe that preaching are called Christians, and they are become famous."  (Ch.2)

Aristides is less direct than Ignatius, but the same idea is there.  God came down from heaven, and was incarnate of Jesus.

Polycarp (110/1308)

Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna, had been taught by St. John,9 and appointed to that see by the apostles10, and also visited Rome, according to Irenaeus who knew him.  He was arrested and executed, perhaps on February 22nd, 156AD11.  A number of letters existed, but only one is now extant, to the Philippians.

" 'For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;' and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning; "watching unto prayer," and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God "not to lead us into temptation ," as the Lord has said: "The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Ch. 7, ANF)

"...to all under heaven who shall believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead." (Ch. 12, 2. Loeb. I, p.299)

"...Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God..."(Ch. 12, ANF)

Polycarp also tells us that Jesus is God, and that he came in the flesh.

Letter of the church of Smyrna about the death of Polycarp (ca. 156AD12)

A letter from Polycarp's church to another church giving an account of his arrest and execution.

"The Irenarch then ..., by name Herod, hastened to bring him into the stadium. [This all happened] that he might fulfil his special lot, being made a partaker of Christ, and that they who betrayed him might undergo the punishment of Judas himself. (Ch. 6)

" [Polycarp] said, 'O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee,...' " (Ch. 14)

"it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners), nor to worship any other. For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; (Ch. 16)

"To Him who is able to bring us all by His grace and goodness into his everlasting kingdom, through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, to Him be glory, and honour, and power, and majesty, for ever. Amen." (Ch.20, ANF)

This again names Jesus as Son of God, and only-begotten, but neither as God or man explicitly.  The reference to partaking of Christ by being executed is worth consideration, however.

Justin Martyr (d.16513)

For Justin, the search returned a very large number of references.  Rather than reproduce them all, a selection is displayed.

First Apology13

"For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; ..." (First Apology, Ch. 5)

"He who is both Son and Apostle of God the Father of all and the Ruler, Jesus Christ; from whom also we have the name of Christians." (First Apology, Ch. 12)

"Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judaea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed." (First Apology, Ch. 13)

"And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, ... (Ch.21)

"...that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race:" (Ch. 23)

"For in the Jewish war which lately raged, Barchochebas, the leader of the revolt of the Jews, gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments, unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy. In these books, then, of the prophets we found Jesus our Christ foretold as coming, born of a virgin, growing up to man's estate, and healing every disease and every sickness, and raising the dead, and being hated, and unrecognised, and crucified, and dying, and rising again, and ascending into heaven, and being, and being called, the Son of God." (Ch. 31)

"The words cited above, David uttered 1500 years before Christ became a man and was crucified; and no one of those who lived before Him, nor yet of His contemporaries, afforded joy to the Gentiles by being crucified. But our Jesus Christ, being crucified and dead, rose again, and having ascended to heaven, reigned;" (Ch. 42)

"But lest some should, without reason, and for the perversion of what we teach, maintain that we say that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago under Cyrenius, and subsequently, in the time of Pontius Pilate, taught what we say He taught; and should cry out against us as though all men who were born before Him were irresponsible-let us anticipate and solve the difficulty. We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers..." (Ch. 46)

"But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race, He endured all the sufferings which the devils instigated the senseless Jews to inflict upon Him; who, though they have it expressly affirmed in the writings of Moses, "And the angel of God spake to Moses in a flame of fire in a bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," yet maintain that He who said this was the Father and Creator of the universe. Whence also the Spirit of prophecy rebukes them, and says, "Israel doth not know Me, my people have not understood Me." "(Ch. 63)

"the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God." (Ch. 63)

Second Apology13

Several uses of 'Jesus' and 'Christ', and references to him as the Word of God, and being crucified; here are a couple:

"But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten there is no name given. ... But these words Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions. And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word who also was with Him and was begotten before the works. when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God's ordering all thing; through Him; this name itself also containing an unknown significance; as also the appellation "God" is not a name, but an opinion implanted in the nature of men of a thing that can hardly be explained. But "Jesus," His name as man and Saviour, has also significance. For He was made man also, as we before said, having been conceived according to the will of God the Father, for the sake of believing men, and for the destruction of the demons.And now you can learn this from what is under your own observation. For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city, many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs." (Ch. 6)

"For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing." (Ch.13)

Dialogue with Trypho13

This has enormous numbers of references to 'Jesus' and 'Christ'.  Here are a couple, out of the 142 chapters of this work.

"...which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts..." (Ch. 36)

" "For you utter many blasphemies, in that you seek to persuade us that this crucified man was with Moses and Aaron, and spoke to them in the pillar of the cloud; then that he became man, was crucified, and ascended up to heaven, and comes again to earth, and ought to be worshipped." " (Ch. 38)

On the resurrection (fragments14)

"And there are some who maintain that even Jesus Himself appeared only as spiritual, and not in flesh, but presented merely the appearance of flesh: these persons seek to rob the flesh of the promise." (Ch. 2)

"And our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a virgin,..." (Ch.3)

"God, the Father of the universe, who is the perfect intelligence, is the truth. And the Word, being His Son, came to us, having put on flesh, revealing both Himself and the Father, giving to us in Himself resurrection from the dead, and eternal life afterwards. And this is Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord." (Ch. 1)

Justin also wrote Against All The Heresies (=Syntagma) (I Apology, xxvi, 8).  According to Irenaeus(Adv. Hær., IV, vi, 2) , Justin also wrote Against Marcion.  There were also a number of other works, theological in character.  These works are lost but were used by later writers. 

Justin describes Jesus as the Word, first-born of God, Son of God, and really born in the flesh; and he explicitly identifies Christ as God.

Tatian (160-170?15)

Address to the Greeks

The words 'Jesus' and 'Christ' do not appear in this work.  In fact not even the word 'Christian' appears.  The term 'Logos' does appear as the first-born of the Father, but that is it.  The work is a personal reply to those who accused Tatian of abandoning philosophy to follow a barbarian creed.  He attacks paganism and defends the antiquity and value of his beliefs.  It is possible that we do not have the complete work, as he states that he is only now about to discuss doctrine.

"Henceforward, knowing who God is and what is His work, I present myself to you prepared for an examination concerning my doctrines, while I adhere immoveably to that mode of life which is according to God." (Ch. 42)

He also wrote a number of other works, all lost.  Tatian later became an Encratite heretic.


A harmony of all four gospels.  It is unclear whether it was written first in Greek or Syriac.  The text is extant in translations in Armenian, Latin, Arabic and lower Franconian, with fragments of the Greek, although some of these Gospel harmonies are further from the original than others.  It contains all the gospel material except the genealogies at the start of Matthew and Luke, and was used in churches in Syriac-speaking areas until the 5th century. 

The issue is not discussed by Tatian, but since he produced a harmony of the gospels, he may be presumed to assert whatever they assert.

Miltiades (ca. 160-170?16)

All his works are lost.  Tertullian tells us he wrote Against the Valentinians, who denied the incarnation (Adv. Valentinianos, 5).  There was also an Apology for Christian Philosophy, and works against the Greeks, Jews, and Montanists.

Miltiades cannot be cited in evidence since his works are lost.  His work against the Valentinians was known to and approved by Tertullian, which tends to suggest that he shared the same views.  However this is only secondary evidence, in my view.  Miltiades will not be considered.

Melito of Sardis (wrote a lost Apology ca. 17017)

"Born as a son, led forth as a lamb, sacrificed as a sheep, buried as a man, he rose from the dead as a God, for he was by nature God and man. He is all things: he judges, and so he is Law; he teaches, and so he is Wisdom; he saves, and so he is Grace; he begets, and so he is Father; he is begotten, and so he is Son; he suffers, and so he is Sacrifice; he is buried, and so he is man; he rises again, and so he is God. This is Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory for all ages. (8-10)


"This is he who was made flesh in a virgin, whose (bones) were not broken upon the tree, who in burial was not resolved into earth, who arose from the dead and raised man from the grave below to the heights of the heavens.  This is the lamb that was slain, this is the lamb that was dumb, this is he that was born of Mary, the fair ewe (70-71 18)

Jerome (D.v.i 24):

"Melito of Asia, bishop of Sardis, addressed a book to the emperor Marcus Antoninus Verus, a disciple of Fronto the orator, in behalf of the Christian doctrine. He wrote other things also, among which are the following: On the passover, two books, one book On the lives of the prophets, one book On the church, one book On the Lord's day one book On faith, one book On the psalms (?) one On the senses, one On the soul and body, one On baptism, one On truth. one On the generation of Christ, On His prophecy one On hospitality and another which is called the Key-one On the devil, one On the Apocalypse of John, one On the incarnation/corporeality19 of God, and six books of Eclogues."  All these are lost.  

Melito describes Jesus Christ as both God and man.

Athenagoras the Athenian, Philosopher and Christian (176 - 180)

His works were most likely addressed to the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius (reigned 161-180).  Two works of this writer survive; the Supplication for the Christians, and On the Resurrection of the dead.  Both are apologetic works -  the latter is referred to in the former.


This work rebuts the charges of atheism, immorality, and then moves to attack the silliness of paganism.  It was addressed to  Marcus Aurelius (reigned 161-180) and his son Lucius Aurelius Commodus, who was brought into the government in 176AD.  It does not include either of the words 'Jesus' or 'Christ', but does refer to the 'Christians' and asks 'that we may cease at length to be slaughtered at the instigation of false accusers'.  Here are a couple of quotes.

"Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists?" (Ch. 10)

"That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being-I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say "His Logos"], for we acknowledge also a Son of God. Nor let any one think it ridiculous that God should have a Son. For though the poets, in their fictions, represent the gods as no better than men, our mode of thinking is not the same as theirs, concerning either God the Father or the Son. But the Son of God is the Logos of the Father, in idea and in operation; for after the pattern of Him and by Him were all things made, the Father and the Son being one. And, the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of spirit, the understanding and reason (nou=j kai\ lo/goj) of the Father is the Son of God.  But if, in your surpassing intelligence, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by the Son, I will state briefly that He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence (for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind [nou=j], had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos [logiko/j]; ..." (Ch.10)

In chapters 29 and 30 he shows that many of the gods are confessed by their own priests to have been men originally, and refers delicately to the scandal of the deification of Antinous.


This work does not refer to either Jesus or Christ or even the Christians, but defends the possibility of the resurrection of the dead on philosophical grounds.

Athenagoras refers to the trinity - God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The logos is the Son of God, which is God, 'the Father and the Son being one'. There is no explicit reference to Jesus the man.

Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 170-190?20)

Adversus Haereses

Irenaeus wrote in Greek but this is not extant except in fragments, one of the second century (P.Oxy. 405, now in Cambridge University Library, where it is MS Add.4413).  An ancient very literal Latin version survives, as does a  version in Armenian.

Since the words 'Jesus' and 'Christ' appear very many times, I have searched only for 'Jesus', ignored material where the 'Jesus' of the heretics is being described as these are not the opinions of Irenaeus himself, and tried to keep the number of quotes to a minimum.  (I have no confidence that I have obtained the important quotes, so contributions would be welcome).

" 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God.' ... Very properly, then, did he say, "In the beginning was the Word," for He was in the Son; "and the Word was with God," for He was the beginning; "and the Word was God," of course, for that which is begotten of God is God." (I, 8, 5)

"For when John, proclaiming one God, the Almighty, and one Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten, by whom all things were made, declares that this was the Son of God, this the Only-begotten, this the Former of all things, this the true Light who enlighteneth every man this the Creator of the world, this He that came to His own, this He that became flesh and dwelt among us,-these men, by a plausible kind of exposition, perverting these statements, maintain that there was another Monogenes, according to production, whom they also style Arche. They also maintain that there was another Saviour, and another Logos, the son of Monogenes, and another Christ produced for the re-establishment of the Pleroma. Thus it is that, wresting from the truth every one of the expressions which have been cited, and taking a bad advantage of the names, they have transferred them to their own system;  so that, according to them, in all these terms John makes no mention of the Lord Jesus Christ. For if he has named the Father, and Charis, and Monogenes, and Aletheia, and Logos, and Zoe, and Anthropos, and Ecclesia, according to their hypothesis, he has, by thus speaking, referred to the primary Ogdoad, in which there was as yet no Jesus, and no Christ, the teacher of John. But that the apostle did not speak concerning their conjunctions, but concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he also acknowledges as the Word of God, he himself has made evident. For, summing up his statements respecting the Word previously mentioned by him, he further declares, 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.' "(I, 9)

"He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning,..." (II, 30)

"...in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate,..." (II, 31, 4)

"...believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent." (III, 4, 2)

"...the Word of God, by whom all things were made, who is our Lord Jesus Christ." (III, 8, 2)

"For Christ did not at that time descend upon Jesus, neither was Christ one and Jesus another: but the Word of God--who is the Saviour of all, and the ruler of heaven and earth, who is Jesus, as I have already pointed out, who did also take upon Him flesh, and was anointed by the Spirit from the Father--was made Jesus Christ,..." (III, 9, 3)

"That John knew the one and the same Word of God, and that He was the only begotten, and that He became incarnate for our salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord, I have sufficiently proved from the word of John himself." (III, 16, 2)

"...the Son of God was born of a virgin, and that He Himself was Christ the Saviour whom the prophets had foretold; not, as these men assert, that Jesus was He who was born of Mary, but that Christ was He who descended from above." (III, 16, 2)

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

Extant in a 13th century Armenian version only. English version available: Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (Joseph P. Smith, trans. Ancient Christian Writers [Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1952], vol. 16.

There are very many relevant passages.  A small selection only is below.  Scanning the pages of this looking for 'Jesus' and 'Christ', I came across the following among many:

"First of all it admonishes us to remember that we have received baptism for remission of sins in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate and died and was raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God;" (ch.3)

"5. In this way, then, there is declared one God, the Father, uncreated, invisible, maker of all things, above whom is no other God whatever, and after whom there is no other God.30 And God is rational, and therefore produced creatures by his Word, and God is a spirit, and so fashioned everything by His Spirit ... so the Word is fitly and properly called the Son, but the Spirit the Wisdom of God..."(ch. 5)

"But the second article [of our faith] is the Word of God, the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was shown forth by the prophets ... He also ... is become a man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death ..." (ch. 6)

"From this [the angel of death] He saved the children of Israel, showing forth in a mystery the Passion of Christ, by the immolation of a spotless lamb, and by its blood ..." (ch. 25)

"...the prophets ... were the heralds of the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, announcing that His flesh would blossom forth from the seed of David, that he would be according to the flesh a son of David...; but according to the Spirit, Son of God, pre-existent with the Father, born before all the building of the world and appearing to the whole world at the end of the age as man, the Word of God, resuming anew in Himself all things in heaven and on earth." (ch. 30)

"31.  So He united man with God and brought about a communion of God and man... . So the Word was made flesh ... and therefore our Lord took up the same first *formation for an Incarnation ..."

"...the Son of man was nailed to the tree...  And because He is himself the Word of God Almighty, who in his invisible form pervades us universally in the whole world, and encompasses both its length and breadth and height and depth - for by God's Word everything is disposed and administered - the Son of God was also crucified in these, imprinted in the form of a cross on the universe; ..." (ch. 34)

"..this king is Christ, the Son of God, made Son of man ..."(36)

"So, He who was preached by the law through Moses and the prophets of the Most High and Almighty God, Son of the Father of all, Source of all things, He who spoke with  Moses - He came into Judaea, begotten by God through the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, of her who was of the seed of David and of Abraham: Jesus, God's anointed..." (40)

"...they [the magi] learned that Christ was born ... and having entered the house where the boy lay wrapped in swaddling clothes, stood above his head, showing the magi the Son of God, Christ." (ch. 58)

"99.  And now let none think that there is any other God the Father than our Maker, as the heretics think; they despise the real God and make an idol of some unreal one, and create for themselves a father superior to our creator, and think they have found on their own account something greater than the truth.  For they are all wicked men and blasphemers against their Creator and father, as we have shown in the 'Exposure and overthrowal of knowledge falsely so called'.  And others again despise the coming of the Son of God and the dispensation of his incarnation, which the apostles have transmitted to us, and which the prophets foretold would be the summing-up of humanity, as we have shown you in brief.  And such people too should be counted among the unbelievers. ..."(ch. 99)


The Catholic Encyclopedia article outlines his life.  He tells us (Bk III) that he knew Polycarp (d. 156) as a young man, and saw him in Rome later when Polycarp  rebutted Marcion and the Valentinians, and he seems to have still been alive in 190-191, at which time he wrote to Pope Victor about the Quartodeciman controversy.  He gives further details of Polycarp in his letter to Florinus (Eusebius, HE, V, ch. 20), in which he rebukes Florinus for deviating from the apostolic teaching and reminds him of what Polycarp (who they both knew) would have said.  He also recalls hearing Polycarp talk of what the apostle John had said or done, when Polycarp himself was young.

Irenaeus describes Jesus as the Son of God, as the Word of God, by whom all things were made, who descended from above,  became flesh, was crucified, and quotes John 1,1-2 that the Word was God.

Theophilus of Antioch (180-192AD)

The three books Ad Autolycum are extant.  The last of these contains a chronology which ends in 180AD with the death of Marcus Aurelius, and so the work was most likely completed shortly thereafter, and at all events before the murder of Commodus on 31st December 192.

Theophilus defends the Jewish roots of Christianity and the Jewish scriptures, which Autolycus seems to have derided.  The shortcomings of paganism and philosophy are briefly attacked.  Popular slanders -cannibalism etc - against the morals of the Christians are also rebutted.  The focus of the work is on defending Judaism.

The words 'Jesus' and 'Christ' do not appear anywhere in this work.

"God, then, having His own Word internal within His own bowels, begat Him, emitting Him along with His own wisdom before all things." (II, 10)

"In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom." (II, 15).

"And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. Then he says, 'The Word was God; all things came into existence through Him; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence.' " (II, 22)

"Moreover, concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the Gospels, because they all spoke inspired by one Spirit of God. (III, 12)

"Moreover, concerning subjection to authorities and powers, and prayer for them, the divine word gives us instructions, in order that 'we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.'" (III, 14)


Most of Theophilus' output is lost.  Theophilus also wrote a History (ii.30) dealing with Jewish genealogies.  Theophilus also wrote Against Marcion (Eusebius IV, 24).

Jerome adds (De vir. illust., xxv)

"Theophilus, sixth bishop of the church of Antioch, in the reign of the emperor Marcus Antoninus Verus composed a book Against Marcion, which is still extant, also three volumes To Autolycus and one Against the heresy of Hermogenes and other short and elegant treatises, well fitted for the edification of the church.

Theophilus cannot be cited in evidence of opinions about Jesus since his anti-heretical works are lost, and his apology does not even mention Christ.  However he does mention the Trinity, and, interestingly the inspiration of the New Testament.  His works against Marcion and Hermogenes are known to Tertullian, which tends to suggest that he shared the same views.  However this is only secondary evidence, in my view.

Minucius Felix (between ca. 180-250AD21)

The words 'Jesus', 'Christ', 'logos', and 'Word' do not appear at all.  The word 'Christian' does appear; contemporary slanders against them are repeated, and then demolished.  The work takes the form of a prosecuting speech by a pagan, Caecilius, who makes accusation against the Christians, and Octavius who rebuts them. (The format of Cicero's dialogues - a portion of which is even quoted verbatim).  

The following sections have been used on occasion in modern times to demonstrate that Minucius Felix was a heretic, although neither Eusebius nor Jerome make such a statement, and it depends on an interpretation which could be regarded as out-of-context.  However here it is.  It should be remembered that neither the chapter divisions nor the punctuation are ancient.

[Caecilius:] "Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were at the bottom of it. I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion, - a worthy and appropriate religion for such manners. Some say that they worship the virilia of their pontiff and priest, and adore the nature, as it were, of their common parent. I know not whether these things are false; certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve." (Ch. 9, followed by further accusations of obscene practices.)

[Octavius:] "He also who fables against us about our adoration of the members of the priest, tries to confer upon us what belongs really to himself. [...details of obscenity not translated...] Abomination! they suffer on themselves such evil deeds, as no age is so effeminate as to be able to bear, and no slavery so cruel as to be compelled to endure. These, and such as these infamous things, we are not at liberty even to hear; it is even disgraceful with any more words to defend ourselves from such charges. For you pretend that those things are done by chaste and modest persons, which we should not believe to be done at all, unless you proved that they were true concerning yourselves. For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God. Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on mortal man, for all his help is put an end to with the extinction of the man. The Egyptians certainly choose out a man for themselves whom they may worship; him alone they propitiate; him they consult about all things; to him they slaughter victims; and he who to others is a god, to himself is certainly a man whether he will or no, for he does not deceive his own consciousness, if he deceives that of others. "Moreover, a false flattery disgracefully caresses princes and kings, not as great and chosen men, as is just, but as gods; ...

"Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it." (Ch. 18-19, ANF)

Some of this may be evidence of date. Octavius responds to the sneer about the cross by denying that a cross is worshipped, and then justifies 'the sign of the cross' as either reasonable, or, if unreasonable then the pagans can't criticise because they do it too.  This seems like quibbling, but the presence of such a technique, its acceptability and the legal framework of the book suggests the era of the Second Sophistic, and of course, of Tertullian.

Minucius Felix does not discuss any theology at all.  The work may not even be second century21, which means that it is difficult to use it as certain evidence of any theory which is tied to a particular time period.  His rebuttal of pagan accusations might be a statement denying the incarnation.  This will be considered in Appendix 1.  

Tertullian (193+)

Tertullian properly belongs to the third century, and his views on the incarnation are not a matter of dispute.  He is included because his first apology - the Ad Nationes - has more in common with the second century than the third, and consequently it is interesting to see that it is not a witness to the incarnation.

Ad Nationes

The words 'Jesus' and 'Christ' do not appear in this work.  The word 'Christian' appears many times.

Likewise Tertullian does not discuss any christology at all in this work.  This will be discussed in Appendix 3.

Summary of evidence and conclusion

Leaving Tertullian aside, we have 10 writers, plus one who should possibly be included.  Of these;

So we see that 60% of the writers make explicit incarnational statements.  This includes most of the writers - Ignatius, Justin, and Irenaeus - for whom we have substantial remains.  Of the other 4, Tatian is a witness to the New Testament and Theophilus uses John as scripture, and so could be included on that ground, the Letter on Polycarp does not make an explicit statement, while Athenagoras does not refer to Jesus at all (but does mention the Trinity).  Silence, of course, is not evidence of anything; not even of silence.  

Thus we have either 6 in favour and 4 silent; or 8 in favour and 2 silent, on the proposition that Jesus was both God and man.

There are no evidence of statements for the contrary proposition - that Jesus was not man, or that Jesus was not God, except for the curious statement in Minucius Felix, whose date and testimony is questionable (see below, Appendix 1).

In conclusion I think we must conclude that the testimony of the second century writers to the incarnation is consistent with the theory that this was standard church teaching in that era.  

The opposite proposition: that no-one cared, or that docetist ideas were equally part of standard church teaching, finds no support in the data we have reviewed; and docetist groups are the object of repeated attacks (all unfortunately lost, apart from Irenaeus, but lists of titles written are preserved) by the Fathers.

There is one final point mentioned in passing which perhaps should be highlighted.  These writers also tell us that they are not isolated from each other, but form part of a continuum of personal contact that stretches from the apostles at one end to Tertullian at the other.  Irenaeus claims to have known Polycarp, and tells us he heard him claim personal contact with the apostles.  He also tells us quite clearly, in the letter to Florinus, how he - and Polycarp - viewed any change of doctrine.  Tatian tells us he knew Justin.  Polycarp exchanged letters with Ignatius, and visited Rome in 165AD.  The lost works of the period were of course extant well into late Antiquity, and perhaps later, and were available to the church historians of the era of Eusebius to praise or condemn.  These links among a group of people who tell us that they are tenacious of their doctrine should form a backdrop to any query asked about these writers and their teachings.


Appendix 1: Evaluating Minucius Felix

As has already been suggested, it is quite unclear whether Minucius Felix is in fact a second-century writer.  Text critical methods at present favour a third century date.21

But here is the passage again:


"For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God." (ch. 19, 2)

This could certainly be seen as an assertion that Christians do not worship a man who was crucified, and that the pagans certainly think that they do.

Only two writers of antiquity discuss Minucius Felix, Lactantius and Jerome.  Both treat him as orthodox.  There can be no doubt that both believed in the incarnation.  In fact there is no evidence that the passage in Minucius Felix was understood as a denial of the incarnation until modern times.

Is it possible to give the statement an orthodox interpretation?  It certainly is:  

It might be suggested that more careful reading suggests that Minucius Felix does not in fact say this.  The opening sentences of chapter 29 do seem to belong to chapter 28 with its discussion of obscenities, untranslated in the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  If we read the sentence in question to see word by word exactly what it says:

"For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, ..."

This is the accusation made by the pagans, 'you'.

"...you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God."

In what way do they wander?  In thinking that a man deserves, or is able, to be God (or a god).  (Justin makes a similar comment, equally evasive, about the crucifixion) What does he mean?  He then goes on to turn the attack back upon the pagan deification of men and emperors.  In fact, he evades the issue. It is true that the context is not one in which Christian teaching about God is being set forth, but of rebuttal of accusations and turning them back on the pagans.  

Some will feel that this interpretation involves explaining away the plain meaning of the words.  Perhaps the best thing to say is that Minucius Felix makes a curious statement in mid-apologetic which is capable of an anti-incarnational view, and leave it at that.

It is unfortunate that ingenuity can be applied to almost any statement which a writer wishes to show support a given set of views.  This makes it difficult to produce a criterion by which it may be objectively evaluated.  If anyone can devise a criterion whereby disputable passages like this can be evaluated objectively, I would be interested to hear from them.

Appendix 2: Heretics, Jews and Pagans

This page is not short; and there is not really space to review any evidence from these sources.  

I am aware that some people would like to pretend that the heretics were just as much part of the church as the Fathers we have quoted, but any discussion of that idea must take place elsewhere. It might be asked what the term 'Christian' means if it is used to include all of Ignatius, Valentinus, Marcion, Carpocrates and Tertullian?

Perhaps we can spare a little space for a quote from Justin on the subject:

"There are, therefore, and there were many, my friends, who, coming forward in the name of Jesus, taught both to speak and act impious and blasphemous things; and these are called by us after the name of the men from whom each doctrine and opinion had its origin. (For some in one way, others in another, teach to blaspheme the Maker of all things, and Christ, who was foretold by Him as coming, and the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, with whom we have nothing in common, since we know them to be atheists, impious, unrighteous, and sinful, and confessors of Jesus in name only, instead of worshippers of Him. Yet they style themselves Christians, just as certain among the Gentiles inscribe the name of God upon the works of their own hands, and partake in nefarious and impious rites.) Some are called Marcians, and some Valentinians, and some Basilidians, and some Saturnilians, and others by other names; each called after the originator of the individual opinion, just as each one of those who consider themselves philosophers, as I said before, thinks he must bear the name of the philosophy which he follows, from the name of the father of the particular doctrine." (Dialogue, ch.35)

There is undoubtedly some pagan witness to Christian beliefs; however Justin cautions us that they may have been prone to believe anyone who called themselves Christian was one, except, of course, in times of persecution.  We have seen, however, in both Justin and Minucius Felix knowledge that the Christians worship a man who was crucified as a criminal.  

Any discussion of Jewish literature must await someone more knowledgeable than myself.

Appendix 3: The Apologists

It has often been remarked that the Apologists are not, as a class, very interested in making theological statements, but instead issue a great many semi-philosophical remarks, as if Christianity were some sort of philosophical school - a category that could include many things.  No doubt those addressed to the philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius strove to appear precisely in that light.  Minucius Felix not merely follows the structure of Cicero's dialogues; he copies verbatim De natura deorum I, 25-42 as chapter 19 of his apology!  

Propagandist writers have sometimes tried to argue from this difference of style that they held a different theology, rather than addressed a different audience.  The example of Tertullian's two apologies; the Ad Nationes, which does not mention Jesus, and the Apologeticum, both written in the same year, tends to suggest this is unfounded.

Athenagoras, On the Resurrection of the dead, begins with some interesting remarks about the content of an Apology:

"By the side of every opinion and doctrine which agrees with the truth of things, there springs up some falsehood; and it does so, not because it takes its rise naturally from some fundamental principle, or from some cause peculiar to the matter in hand, but because it is invented on purpose by men who set a value on the spurious seed, for its tendency to corrupt the truth. 

"... some of them ... distort it to suit their own views, and some of set purpose doubt even of things which are palpably evident. 

"Hence I think that those who bestow attention on such subjects should adopt two lines of argument, one in defence of the truth, another concerning the truth: that in defence of the truth, for disbelievers and doubters; that concerning the truth, for such as are candid and receive the truth with readiness.  (Res, Ch. 1)

Athenagoras at least is quite clear that the duty of the Apologist is to concentrate on rebutting attacks, rather than proclaiming the gospel.

After our period, but to the point, are the remarks of Lactantius:

"Although Tertullian fully pleaded the same cause in that treatise which is entitled the Apology, yet, inasmuch as it is one thing to answer accusers, which consists in defence or denial only, and another thing to instruct, which we do, in which the substance of the whole system must be contained, I have not shrunk from this labour, that I might complete the subject... (Inst. V, 4)

What did the Apologists hope to achieve, by presenting Christianity is this way?  The answer is to be found in the start or end of many of them:

"...Henceforth let the tongues of those who utter vanity and harass the Christians be silent; and hereafter let them speak the truth.  ...(Aristides, ch.17)"

"...we beseech you to bestow some consideration upon us also, that we may cease at length to be slaughtered at the instigation of false accusers. ... But, when we have surrendered our property, they plot against our very bodies and souls, pouring upon us wholesale charges of crimes of which we are guiltless even in thought, but which belong to these idle praters themselves, and to the whole tribe of those who are like them." (Athenagoras, Apology, ch. 1)

"And now do you... bend your royal head in approval. For who are more deserving to obtain the things they ask, than those who, like us, pray for your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son from father, and that your empire may receive increase and addition, all men becoming subject to your sway? And this is also for our advantage, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, and may ourselves readily perform all that is commanded us." (Athenagoras, Apology, conclusion)

"To the Emperor ... Antoninus Pius, and to his son Verissimus the Philosopher, and to Lucius the Philosopher, the natural son of Caesar, and the adopted son of Pius, a lover of learning, and to the sacred Senate, with the whole People of the Romans, I, Justin, ... present this address and petition in behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, myself being one of them." (Justin, First Apology, ch. 1)

They were members of an illegal organisation, ever at the mercy of the spite of petty officials, the informer, of even religious or professional rivalry (Eusebius tells us Justin was arrested after being denounced by Crescens the Cynic after the latter was apparently worsted in debate).  

Did they seek to convert the Emperor?  The words suggest otherwise.  Rather they tell us that they sought to save their lives from the lion and their wives from state-sponsored rape in a brothel.   Some attempt to fit in with pagan literary conventions, I would suggest, would not be seen as too great a sacrifice if it achieved this.


These are in the main either for dates or methodology.  It's not possible to supply primary data studies on each detail of dating on this page in the space available.  The references are therefore mostly to handbooks, from which the data may be located by the interested.  Fortunately these points are not really those at issue.


AH. = Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses.

HE. = Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica / Church History.

Q. = Quasten, Patrology, Christian Classics, 4 vols.  Originally published 1952-60, and often reprinted.


1.  This page does not pretend to be more than a collection of quotations from primary sources, with a minimum of explanatory notes from readily available secondary sources.  It seemed to me most important to allow the authors to speak for themselves, and the other material could take second place.  To do a paper which fully treats each question of dating and authorship would be extremely valuable, and indeed interesting, but would inevitably mean a separate page on each author, and a substantial research effort.  At present I do not have the opportunity to do this.  However I feel that the quotations should be of interest, and I trust that the derivative nature of the dates and notes will be remembered.  I have attempted without much success to be succinct.

The reader should be aware that I am not a scholar, but rather an amateur interested in the transmission of texts from antiquity, particularly those of Tertullian, for whom I run a web site at www.tertullian.org.  This page in particular is not scholarship, but simply an attempt to gather enough information to obtain an answer to one, narrow question.

I am aware that to some people this may seem like a very silly question.  While reading these writers, it has become clear to me that at least some of them would certainly have thought so.  After all, if they had believed Jesus was not God, we have to ask in what way they would have been  different from Jews, while if they had believed Jesus was not a real Man, we might ask how they were different from pagans; and that they were a 'third race' - a distinct group - separate from either is apparent from their different legal position.  But the question has been raised, and so it seems it may be worthwhile to discuss how an honest man can find out the answer to this question without being misled by the bias of others.

2. I have attempted to include all the certainly second century writers whose works are extant, leaving aside those such as Papias preserved only in small fragments in Eusebius.  The line is fuzzy at either end, due to uncertainties over dating.  However to answer the question a line must be drawn somewhere.  I have decided to exclude those portions of the Apostolic Fathers that could well be first century, purely for reasons of space.  However I have included Minucius Felix, who is probably third century, partly because allegations have been made specifically based upon him.  Commodian, who could be second, third, fourth or fifth century, is also excluded.  The epistle to Diognetus is currently considered late second century, but could also be third -- chapters 11 and 12 seem to be by Hippolytus -- and so is also excluded.  Hermias is likewise not certainly second century.

During the 19th century it appears that attempts were made to dispute almost every fixed point in Patristics.  This re-evaluation did bring real progress in its day, but is now generally accepted as too critical (the French use the term hypercriticisme for it).  The date of nearly every Patristic work before about 180AD can be disputed if sufficient ingenuity is applied to the task. Attempts to date every Christian work late, and every heretical work early, were routinely made at that time but will not be discussed here, again for reasons of space.  The dates from Quasten have been used in most cases; but these are probably only approximate.  Dates that are important will be discussed.

3. Some of these works are apologies directed to the Emperor - often the philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and these have a markedly different content, aim and approach to the others.  A note has been added at the end to discuss the ancient testimony outlining their methods.

There are some risks in looking for statements by writers in books they wrote on other subjects; not least that they will not address the subject, or do so in a confusing or unfocused way.  None of the writers is writing on the incarnation, and indeed the Greek technical term used later does not appear until Irenaeus.  The only work explicitly on the subject (probably) in our period - by Melito - is lost.  The accidents of survival have wiped out nearly all the literature we would like to read, in the difficult centuries after the collapse of Antiquity.  The theological texts that would be most likely to contain clear definitions of second century belief are all lost; the apologies only preserved through the accidental creation of the Arethas Codex in the 10th century.  However we can gain some idea of their opinions from writers later in antiquity such as Tertullian, Eusebius and Jerome who had read these works.

4. One area that I found difficult to get to grips with was the dating of these works - an uncertainty that continues well into the following century.  That all of them are second-century seems clear, but the literature on the subject seems to have been confused by the now-discredited 19th century attempt to redate the Christian religion to the latter years of the second century.  It would be useful to examine the evidence for dating for all these works, but it would also be a Herculean task, which I have declined.  I have therefore adopted the standard dates available from handbooks and the Catholic Encyclopedia, although where there is some primary evidence for dating available to me I have tried to mention it.

5. Eusebius in his Chronicon tells us that Ignatius was executed in the tenth year of Trajan's reign (i.e. 108AD).  I've also seen dates of 107 and 116.

6. This letter is explicitly written against 'docetic' heretics who deny that God was incarnate in a real man.

7. Q. I, 191.  I  understand that arguments to date this work to the early years of Antoninus Pius have also been made, but these I have not seen.

8. Q. I, 80.

9. HE. V, 20, 15.

10. AH. 3, 3, 4

11. Loeb edition, p.311.  An alternative date of February 23rd, 155AD, is also given in the Loeb, p.280.  The calculation depends on interpreting the date of a Jewish festival.

12. The letter was written sometime, but presumably soon, after the death of Polycarp.

13. Q. I. 197.  The First Apology refers (ch. 46) to Christ as being born '150' years ago, which gives a date of around 150AD.  The second apology is later, as it refers to action under a particular Urban Prefect, while the Dialogue refers to the First Apology (Ch. 120).

14. These fragments are from John Damascene, Sacra Parallela.  Q. I. 205.

15. It seems quite unclear when Tatian lived, except that it was probably in the third quarter of the second century.  From what this is derived I do not know.

16. Q. I. 228.

17. Q. I. 202.

18. The first quotation is from an online excerpt of Melito of Sardis, On Pascha and Fragments, ed.-tr. by S. G. Hall, Oxford: 1979 - the other from Q.I. 244.

19. Note: the word translated 'incarnation' or 'corporeality' is of uncertain meaning and has been understood both ways, both in antiquity and more recently.  The current state of the question is unknown to me.

20. Q. I. 287-8.

21. There is very little evidence about the date of this writer.  The earliest Christian Latin that is dateable is the Acts of the Scilltan Martyrs, dated to 180.  But the Octavius of Minucius Felix must be earlier than Pseudo-Cyprian (258), which uses him.  There is some kind of relationship with the text of Tertullian (194), but which has priority has never been agreed.  Jerome believes he followed Tertullian, but of course he may have had no certain knowledge (De vir. ill. 53, 58; Ep. 70, 5).  See also Q. II. 159 for an extensive bibliography to 1955.

The Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea, published annually in Revue d'Études Augustiniennes from 1974 on, reviews work on the Early Latin Fathers, including Minucius Felix.  At present it would seem that the philologists (e.g. Tibletti, Waszink) are united in supporting a late date; so  much so that Gilles Quispel, the supporter of an early date is driven to say 'Philology is a dead alley' (§82.35).  George L. Carver (SM §4, p526 of collected edn) in TAPA 108 (1978), 21-34 studies parallels with Cyprian and concludes that Minucius Felix used Cyprian.  A Q. Caecilius Natalis is a magistrate in Cirta in 210AD.  The date of 160 appears to derive from W. Baehrens (in 1915).

It is not possible to review the evidence in the limited space available here.  However it appears that there is no academic consensus, other than among the philologists.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.

Written 28th December-5th January, 2000.  Updated 19th January, 2000. Updated 28th July 2001 with quotes from Irenaeus' "Proof...".  Minor editing to make it easier for newcomers to find their way around the document.  Updated 15th January 2003 with footnote on Diognetus and Hermias.

This page has been online since 5th January 2000.

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